Deadly Sin of Writing #5–P.O.V. Prostitution

P.O.V. Prostitution is an ugly sight.

Okay, you guys asked for more Deadly Sins of Writing, so here we go. I’m putting on my editor’s hat. Many of you decided to become writers because you love to write. Duh. I’ll even bet most of you, back when you were in school, also made very good grades in English. Thus, you might assume that you naturally know how to write a novel that is fit for NY publication. Maybe you do. But, if you are anything like me when I started out? You might not know as much as you think you do.

Why?

Our high school English teacher didn’t care that we used 15 metaphors on one page. Why? Her goal was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor…NOT to prepare us for agent submission.

As you might be able to tell from my latest posts, I think self-publishing is becoming an increasingly viable option for many writers. Yet, I also want to be forthcoming. Self-publishing is not a panacea, and there are too many writers who rush to self-publish instead of understanding why their story was being rejected. Aside from flashbacks and back-story vomit, today’s sin is probably THE biggest problem I see in most self-published books.

Generally, I can see in three pages why a manuscript was rejected by an agent. How?

There are a number of ways, and I recommend you check out one of my posts from last year, Novel Diagnostics for a detailed explanation of some of the most common newbie novelist oopses.

But, beyond that list, the single largest mistake I see in new manuscripts is the author does not understand P.O.V. This is an easy mistake to make, in that, as I stated earlier, our college English classes aren’t there to teach us how to be great novelists.

Some writers pick up on P.O.V. intuitively, but most of us need to be taught, lest we leave the reader feeling as if she is being held hostage on a Tilt-A-Whirl.

P.O.V. Prostitution (Head-Hopping)

Let’s step back in time to the days before we all made the decision to become writers. I would guess all of us were readers. We loved books, and books were a large part of what prompted our career choice. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you ever tried to read a book, but eventually had to put it down because it was too confusing? You couldn’t figure out who was doing what, and you needed Dramamine to keep up with the perspectives?
  • Have you ever read a story that was so good you actually felt as if you had taken on the character’s skin? His success was yours, as was his failure. By the final page, you were sad to say good-bye?

P.O.V. used properly can create entire worlds, and breathe life into characters. Used improperly, it can make your reader feel like she’s been strapped to Hell’s Merry-Go-Round—not good.

First, you have to know what P.O.V. is if you hope to use it to your advantage.  “P.O.V. does not stand for ‘Prisoners of Vietnam,’” as author Candy Havens would say. P.O.V. stands for Point of View.

Although this literary device is one of the most vital tools an author possesses, it is probably the number one style problem I encounter as an editor. I cannot count how many new writers (and, sadly, some not-so-new writers) give me a blank stare when I write P.O.V. in big red letters all over their manuscripts (and H.H., but we’ll get to that later).

The best way to describe point of view is to think of your story as viewed through the lens of the video camera. How many people (characters) are going to be permitted to hold that camera?

Is your camera going to travel with one main character through the entire story? Or, do others get a turn? Is “God” holding the camera? These are simple questions you can answer to help you select the point of view perfect for your story.

There is no wrong P.O.V., but we do have to be consistent. P.O.V. is a HUGE factor in determining our writing voice.

What are the types of P.O.V.?

A quick overview:

First-Person P.O.V—uses “I” a lot. Only one character (the narrator) has the camera.

There are four major disadvantages to this P.O.V.

1. This P.O.V uses a lot of “I” which can become repetitive to the point of distraction.

2. The reader can only see and hear what the narrator knows. This limits the flow of information. Probably good for a mystery, but if you aren’t writing a mystery this may not be the right P.O.V for you.

3. EOEs are problematic. An EOE is an emotionally overwhelming event. If our narrator walks in on her brother lying dead in a pool of blood, the scene can lose power and authenticity.

4. First-Person P.O.V is a bugger when it comes to tense. Why? Because First-Person breaks into two camps.

There is the I remember whencamp and the Come along withmecamp.

One is in past tense, a recollection. “I remember the day my father and I were attacked by a pack of Mary Kay ladies gone feral….”

The other is in present tense, and the reader is along for the ride. “I walk these streets every morning, but today I am just waiting for something to go wrong….”

Note of Caution: It is extremely easy to muddy the two camps together. Tense can be problematic…okay, a nightmare.

The benefit? First-person P.O.V. adds an intimacy that no other P.O.V. can, and is useful for stories where we might want to withhold information from the reader.

Third-Person P.O.V—is when you, the writer, permit one or more of the characters to lug the camera through your story.

Third Person Locked allows only one character access to the camera. The entire story is told through what that particular character can experience through the 5 Senses. So, if your character’s eyes are “shining with love,” then she’d best be holding a mirror, or you are guilty of head-hopping.

Third Person Shifting allows more than one character access to the camera. Here’s the rub. Your characters must to play nice and take turns. Only one character with the camera at a time. When the next character wants a turn, there has to be a clear cut. Think of the director’s clapboard ending one scene before shifting to the next.

It is usually a good idea to limit one P.O.V. per scene. When we switch perspectives inside the same scene, that is called head-hopping, and it will confuse and frustrate our readers.

There are advantages to Third-Person Shifting

1. It can add additional depth and insight to your story.

2. It can allow you (the writer) to hold back information and add to suspense.

3. Third-Person Shifting can allow other characters to take over during emotionally volatile points in the story.

For instance, looking at our earlier example, if your protagonist walks in on her brother lying dead in a pool of blood, the emotions experienced are realistically too overwhelming to be properly articulated by your protagonist.

In this scenario, First-Person P.O.V is probably not a good fit. The scene could be more powerful if told from someone watching your protagonist react to discovering a deceased loved one.

There are inherent problems with Third-Person Shifting.

1. Your characters must play nice and take turns. Otherwise, your reader will likely become confused and eventually frustrated.

2. It is best to permit camera access to key characters only. The reader has to stay in one head long enough to feel connected. Too many perspectives can easily become overwhelming and dilute the strength of your characters.

Omniscient P.O.V is when “God” gets to hold the camera.

This P.O.V is like placing your camera up high over all of the action. The narrator is omnipresent and omniscient. “If Joe had only known who was waiting for him outside, he would have never left for that pack of cigarettes.” Joe cannot experience anything beyond the 5 Senses (third-person). So, unless Joe is actually Superman and possesses X-Ray vision, it takes an omniscient presence to tell us someone bad is lurking outside waiting to do Joe harm.

There are advantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Omniscient can relay information that would be far too overwhelming to describe if limited to the 5 Senses. Battle scenes are a good example.

2. Omniscient can give information critical to the story that the character doesn’t have to personally know. For instance, in Bob’s Area 51 Series (which I HIGHLY recommend), he relays a lot of factual and historical information that is critical to understanding the plot. But, it would really seem bizarre to the reader if his characters just started spouting off the history of the pyramids like an Egyptologist. To avoid this jarring scenario, Bob uses an omniscient presence to relay the information so the prose remains nice and smooth.

There are disadvantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Third-Person P.O.V. and Omniscient P.O.V. are VERY easy to muddy together.

2. Omniscient P.O.V. and Head-Hopping are not the same, but are easy to confuse. I have edited many writers who believed they were employing Omniscient P.O.V. In reality, they were just letting every character in the book fight over the camera simultaneously, leaving me (the editor) feeling like I was trapped in the Blair Witch Project.

Whose head am I in? I can’t tell. Help meeeee…..

Proper use of P.O.V. takes a lot of practice to master. It is very easy to shift from one type of P.O.V. to another, or what I like to call “P.O.V. Prostitution” or “Head-Hopping.”

Key Points to Remember:

  • In First-Person–Come along with me stories can easily turn into I remember when stories (or vice versa). Tense is a big red flag. Do you shift from present to past or past to present? Pay close attention to verbs.
  • In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting)–Characters will only play nice and take turns if you, the writer, force them to. Make sure whatever is happening in a scene is something that could be filtered through ONE character’s 5 Senses.
  • In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting) –“God” is really bad about grabbing your character’s camera, so keep an eye on Him. If there is suddenly information your character has no way of knowing through the 5 Senses, that is a big clue the Big Guy snagged your camera. Just remind Him nicely of commandment number eight, and ask Him to give the camera back.
  • In Omniscient–”God” is in charge. Be careful your wide-lens isn’t zooming in and out and making your reader dizzy in the process.

P.O.V. is one more reason it is critical for writers to read if they hope to become great authors. Read, read, read. Read all kinds of books by all kinds of authors using different P.O.V.s to see how it is done well. Here are some of my recommendations:

Suzanne Collins brilliantly employs First-Person in the Come Along with Me fashion in her Hunger Games Trilogy. Her choice of P.O.V. gives an intimate feel no other P.O.V. can, and, since it isn’t an I Remember When story, Collins is able to maintain reader suspense.

Stephen King does a great job of using first-person in an I Remember When style in The Green Mile. King chose this P.O.V. for a very specific reason, which I will not say so as not to spoil the ending.

Dennis Lehane does an amazing job of employing omniscient in Mystic River. If you think you might want to use omniscient, I’d recommend reading him.

James Rollins uses third-person shifting very well in the Doomsday Key. Third-shifting is generally a great P.O.V. for thrillers in that it helps manage/reveal a lot of information that the protag may or may not know.

I would also recommend reading Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo. She actually mixes third-limited and first-person and the effect is impressive.

P.O.V. when used properly can take a story to a whole new level. Read, experiment and practice. I know I just touched on a handful of suggestions, so feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments .

I highly recommend NY Time Best-Selling author Bob Mayer’s  The Novel Writers Toolkit for more in-depth explanation.

What is your favorite P.O.V. and why? Which ones do you like the least? Why? Have you never heard the term P.O.V. before? Does this post clear up some big questions about why your manuscript might have been having problems? Do you guys have any resources you would recommend? I want to hear from you!

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

Last Week’s Winner of 5-Page Critique–Marcy Kennedy

Please send your 1250 word Word doc to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of August I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

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  1. #1 by educlaytion on August 22, 2011 - 1:57 pm

    I’ll be marking this post as one of your best. POV is always a challenge. Love the breakdown and may even have to pass this on to some of my students who want to write.

    Also, I love this observation about self-publishing:
    “Self-publishing is not a panacea, and there are too many writers who rush to self-publish instead of understanding why their story was being rejected.”

  2. #2 by Loree Huebner on August 22, 2011 - 2:10 pm

    Thank you for the step by step POV post. I have struggled with this in the past. All great reminders.

  3. #3 by Ashley Prince on August 22, 2011 - 2:11 pm

    Just when I think I understand P.O.V., I realize that I don’t. This is such a great post and I am bookmarking it to come back to when I need a refresher on P.O.V.

    I cannot tell you how many times I have switched the P.O.V. in my WIP. I originally wanted to use first person, but then I switched to what I now know is third person locked. And now, I have switched back to first person. I just really can’t decide which P.O.V. is better.

  4. #4 by Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy) on August 22, 2011 - 2:20 pm

    Wait, what? I won? That’s so cool :)

  5. #6 by JLSimons on August 22, 2011 - 2:22 pm

    Great review of P.O.V., Kristen. (I could have done without the first picture, though, which will now haunt my dreams…)

  6. #7 by Piper Bayard on August 22, 2011 - 2:22 pm

    Thanks for this clarification. I think P.O.V. is one of the biggest challenges for an author to get right.

    My favorite P.O.V. to write in is first person. That’s probably because I’m in the middle of writing a first person P.O.V. novel. However, one of the greatest challenges I faced was tense. After the first draft of the first cousin novel to this one, my dedicated beta readers who deserve to be canonized threw back the first chapter at me and told me to pick a tense, any tense, and stick with it. Now, a few hundred thousand words later, I don’t have to think about it any more, but it literally took years.

    Thanks for the great blog.

    • #8 by lanceschaubert on August 22, 2011 - 2:25 pm

      Me too, Pipe. (sorry, always wanted to call you pipe – it fits since your genre’s about everything going up in smoke).

      I had the same problem. I nearly lost one of my most respected critique partners because I jumped around so much first draft.

      Glad I’m not the only one, sis.

  7. #9 by lanceschaubert on August 22, 2011 - 2:23 pm

    This was so funny and SO needed. I was worried you were going hammer first-person, but glad to see you beat up third instead.

    Do you see a lot more stories with first-person present? The present tense seems to crop up a lot in the New Yorker…

    • #10 by Author Kristen Lamb on August 22, 2011 - 2:48 pm

      Truthfully all of the P.O.V.’s have advantages and disadvantages. That was why I said there really is no “right” P.O.V. It has to work with the author’s voice. But, if we don’t understand P.O.V. it is easy to butcher a great story.

  8. #11 by Stacy Green on August 22, 2011 - 2:24 pm

    I use third-person shifting because it allows more of the story to be told, and I think most thrillers/suspense novels work better that way. This is something I struggled with initially but I’ve pretty much got it down now. Every once in a while something creeps up that couldn’t come from a particular characters POV, but I’ve improved on that quite a bit.

    I know some writers use head hopping successfully, but it’s a difficult trick. I’ve read a couple of well-known, best-selling writers that didn’t do it well at all, IMO.

  9. #12 by Sonia G Medeiros on August 22, 2011 - 2:39 pm

    Bwahahaha. That first pic made my eyes bleed tho.

    I love 3rd Person Shifting (didn’t even know that was the term for it until this post!). I use this in my MIP. Originally, I used 3rd Person Locked but I realized that another important character’s POV would enrich the story without giving away too much too soon.

    I also love First Person. I’ve used this in stories. It adds a unique flavor to stories, an intimacy. Sometimes it’s too intimate though. Depends on the story.

    Love the list of books. Great resources.

  10. #13 by Jen Randolph on August 22, 2011 - 2:43 pm

    Great post. I am def going to keep it handy as a reference for when my characters start head hopping (I hope they don’t, but just in case).

    The Hunger Games was my first real encounter with 1st person present and it blew my mind how suspenseful it kept the story. It was so hard not to peek at the end of the page before getting there.

    If anyone has yet to read it, The Southern Vampire Mysteries are great in first person. Sookie’s POV is adorable and you really get to like her. It is a more personal feel and the pace is pretty quick with less backstory unless it is useful.

  11. #14 by Sandy Stennett on August 22, 2011 - 3:04 pm

    I tend to use omniscient P.O.V. I work well with it and for most of my stories it works well for me. I have used first person P.O.V., it was difficult for me to keep the focus in the right voice. After several edits, I found it worked well for the story and was proud of the final draft. However, I believe, as you stated, it depends mostly on the story as to which point of view will suit it the best. I enjoy reading stories with all different kinds of P.O.V. It helps me to see how each can be used succesfully in different situation. Thanks for the Deadly Sins, I am enjoying them and keeping them for future reference.

  12. #15 by authorguy on August 22, 2011 - 3:05 pm

    It depends on what your basic unit of the story is. If you view a story as a set of scenes with the characters moving around inside of them, then yes, maintaining a consistent POV throughout is important. If you view a story as multiple characters, their lives intersecting in various places, then no it doesn’t. I don’t like descriptive prose, and I don’t like to write it, so in my books the scene as I-the-author see it is irrelevant. The ‘scene’ is what each character perceives, and each character perceives the same physical setting differently. As a result the POV in my stories changes depending on who has the focus, i.e., who is speaking. You could say it’s like a multi-dimensional zipper, each separate row of teeth interlocking as the story progresses. It does put some overhead on each paragraph to specify who’s speaking, but it allows me to dispense with dialog tags much of the time.

    • #16 by Author Kristen Lamb on August 22, 2011 - 3:09 pm

      Um….the story is for the reader, not us. It might be easy for you to keep up with all of that because you are the Creator. As for readers? That sounds like a nightmare. Sorry. The rules exist for a reason. We can break rules, but sometimes, we will sacrifice the appeal of our work.

  13. #17 by kawyle on August 22, 2011 - 3:11 pm

    When and how — if ever — can one mix 3rd person shifting and Omniscient?

    • #18 by Author Kristen Lamb on August 22, 2011 - 3:18 pm

      Don’t mix them in the same scene or that’s head-hopping. Feel free to do like Linda Castillo and mix POVs, but keep them to separate scenes or the reader will need a motion sickness patch.

  14. #19 by Rebecca Enzor on August 22, 2011 - 3:21 pm

    I’m horrible with POV. I’ve finally gotten the head-hopping under control, but I still find myself describing things that my character could never see (like shining eyes). Luckily I have critters that latch on to those problems with their red pen and won’t let me forget!

  15. #20 by authorguy on August 22, 2011 - 3:22 pm

    I did a blog post a long time ago on this subject, which has some examples of how I do it:
    http://authorguy.wordpress.com/2010/07/09/shared-vision/

    • #21 by Author Kristen Lamb on August 22, 2011 - 3:35 pm

      I read your samples and I’m sorry but I would need Dramamine. I kept having to back up to figure out who you were talking about. This would give me a headache very quickly and I would put down the book. Instead of getting hooked into your story, I am an spending brain power trying to figure out whose head I’m in now. That’s very distracting.

      Switching heads so often dilutes the power of your characters. When we stay in a POV for a time, we (the reader) take on that character’s skin. It’s why people love stories. We can have adventures vicariously. When you keep making us switch, it is aggravating.

  16. #22 by Angela Wallace on August 22, 2011 - 3:52 pm

    I’ve done both third person shifting and first person. I don’t know which I like better, though I agree first person does make keeping track of tense difficult. I write past tense, but every so often I find a present tense has popped in. *whack it*

  17. #23 by Anne R. Allen on August 22, 2011 - 3:56 pm

    This is such a great overview. I’m going to bookmark it and send my editing clients the url. You’re right that it’s the biggest problem with beginning writers. Some use the omniscient for a while, as they deliver sort of a stand-up comedy routine. Then they start head-hopping. Then they might stick in a chapter, usually written in italics, in first person, present tense. Then they go into third person limited for a few chapters, then the POV character dies, and you’re head-hopping again. Get out the Dramamine is right!

    The advent of the Kindle makes it more important than ever to have a consistent POV, because you can’t flip back through the pages as easily to figure out who the hell this character is and why I could care.

    Every shift in POV takes us out of the story and makes readers have to re-orient themselves. You’ve taken away a friend and replaced him with a stranger. Do this at your peril.

    Really good advice there to authorguy–if you write for publication, and not just for yourself in your garret, you can’t confuse the reader on purpose to be “arty”. It’s really easy to hit the “delete” button on a writer who doesn’t respect our time.

    BTW, I gave your book a big shout-out on my blog this week, Kristen!

    • #24 by authorguy on August 22, 2011 - 4:07 pm

      All of the quotes in my blog post are from my published works, specifically Unbinding the Stone and A Warrior Made. The only works I have that aren’t published are the ones I’m still writing.

  18. #25 by Jane Sadek on August 22, 2011 - 4:06 pm

    Great information Kristen and where did you find that old picture of me. I could have sworn I burned the negatives and all the prints;)

    • #26 by Author Kristen Lamb on August 22, 2011 - 4:29 pm

      LOL. That crazy guy was hanging around on 6th Street in Austin. What a hoot!

  19. #27 by Piglet in Portugal on August 22, 2011 - 4:08 pm

    I’ve always struggled with this aspect of writing :( Your explanation is the best yet. Thank you!

  20. #28 by Darlene SteelmanDarlene on August 22, 2011 - 4:19 pm

    Kristen.. thank you, thank you for this post. As I am writing my first serious novel, ever, I thought I was doing very well with POV (third person – no where in the story!). Until… I submitted the first 2,000 words for critique on Writer’s Digest and a few people said they were confused about the POV.

    Phht.. excuse me? I clearly put a line break in there!

    ha.. anyway, I will go back through and really look at it to make sure my characters pov’s are squared off, for lack of a better term. I’d dislike very much to get to 40,000 words and find out my pov’s are mucky muck.

    Have a great day! :D

  21. #29 by elainecharton on August 22, 2011 - 4:23 pm

    Where were you when I began writing? POV was one of the hardest things for me to understand. I’ve used third person in most of my books, except the one I am currently working on. I tried that and it didn’t feel right so I changed to first person and it flows so much better now. I’m going to share this with my critique group.

  22. #30 by Marji Laine (@MarjiLaine) on August 22, 2011 - 4:37 pm

    Kristen,
    Spot on! And the moment I think I’ve got POV under control, one of those blasted hyenas goes and sees the wrinkle on her own forehead! Shoot-fire!

    I find, however, that unless I’m doing a focused revision for POV, I’m likely to miss any little head-hopping details, so I make sure to include a couple of those revisions while I’m writing and another at the end. My critique group doesn’t let me get away with it either!

    And even if I did consider myself such an artist that I would make up my own grammar rules, I don’t think I’d use them in my professional writing. I want my readers to enjoy what I write, without a map key or any instructions. It’s just courtesy to help them be “on the same page.”

  23. #31 by Diana Douglas on August 22, 2011 - 5:00 pm

    Head hopping has always driven me nuts, but there’s a well known author who has sold a zillion books who head hops like crazy. I’m pretty sure the fact that I can’t read her books doesn’t bother her in the slightest.
    I know a lot of writers who struggle with POV. And a lot of new writers who confuse tense with POV. You’ve done a great job of making the concept easy to understand. Thanks for your words of wisdom and encouragement.

  24. #32 by susielindau on August 22, 2011 - 5:14 pm

    I love how concise and easy your post is to understand. I think I have been writing my book correctly. I figure if my main character can’t see it, I can’t write it!
    I am enjoying these lessons and look forward to the next KLB class!

  25. #33 by Suzanne on August 22, 2011 - 5:15 pm

    Well done, Kristen. Thanks!

  26. #34 by susielindau on August 22, 2011 - 5:24 pm

    Just curious… Where are you posting from since the email I received was at 7:51 AM Mtn time and yours is 1:51 PM?

    • #35 by Author Kristen Lamb on August 22, 2011 - 7:51 pm

      I am posting from Texas and I haven’t set the time on my WP. Every time I intend to change that I–OOH SQUIRREL!!!!

      …get side-tracked :D.

  27. #36 by Himbokal on August 22, 2011 - 5:28 pm

    Thanks for the post. This is very helpful as I’m just about to go into revising my first draft of my first novel. POV is something I can add to other issues that my beta readers brought up.

    Oh and back story vomit is my favorite: I remember back when my last short story puked up a dog dying as defining moment of childhood back story. I had told the short story not to eat that since the sell by date was like March of 1962 but he said he was hungry and drunk an we were out of Pizza Pockets so I came home and place was just covered in page after page about the origins of the dog’s name, the breeding, the shade of brown of it’s coat. A catalog of the fenderbenders the car that hit the dog had been. I thought it would never stop.

    Also do you have the email for the dude in the picture? He looks like he parties extremely hard. Kinda want to hang with him.

  28. #37 by Nicole Basaraba on August 22, 2011 - 5:33 pm

    I read two books by the same author where they used third person shifting. In one of the books it was shared by the characters very well, in another book I found myself thinking “come ON, get back to so-and-so” so I guess that one character was hogging the camera.

    I’ve decided to write my first book in third-person limited. I’ll have to make sure I have no “eye-shinning” moments in it when I edit.

  29. #38 by Sara Grambusch on August 22, 2011 - 5:54 pm

    Oh boy, I am a POV nightmare. I want to be in everyone’s thoughts all the time! I need to take a class or something. This is a great, concise, POV reality check – thanks!

  30. #39 by Laura Rahimi Barnes on August 22, 2011 - 6:36 pm

    Great post. I bookmarked it.

  31. #40 by Kate Larkindale on August 22, 2011 - 6:50 pm

    I prefer first person for the most part. When I write 3rd person, I find I always want to be omniscient and end up scattering narrators all over the place.

  32. #41 by Tamara LeBlanc on August 22, 2011 - 7:20 pm

    I’m a third-person shifting type of gal. I like seeing the story unfold through my hero AND heroine’s eyes.
    I also like reading books in this POV, though lately, many of the best YA novels employ first person story telling and they rock.
    I’ve been doing this writing thing a while now and aced most of my language arts classes back in high school, but that certainly doesn’t make me an expert. Not even close. In fact, as I’ve aged not only is it harder to stay trim, see fine print and enjoy loud bass music, I also find it difficult to remember many proper grammar rules. And though I’m not Beavis the illiterate moron, there are still instances when my critique partners ding me for tense issues and unintentional POV shifts.
    It’s tough to write a novel. It’s even tougher to write one that makes sense, attracts an editor/agent and then resonates with a reader forever.
    One day I’ll be multi-published, but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop reading books on the craft, attending workshops, meeting with my critique partners,or devouring teaching blogs like yours.That would be stupid. So what I do is look at my writing career as a never ending learning experience. I absorb all I can and do my best to apply that education to my work.
    I’ll never know everything, but thanks to people like you I learn something new everyday!
    Thanks for clearing up Omniscient POV…that one always stumps me.
    And hopefully one day I’ll have the courage to write in first person…that one always scares me.
    I’m looking froward to checking out the book links you offered.
    Have a brilliant Monday!
    Tamara

  33. #42 by Angela Orlowski-Peart on August 22, 2011 - 7:25 pm

    Thank you for such in-depth explanation. I’m going to share this article with my critique group partners.

  34. #43 by Suzanne Lucero (@S_Lucero) on August 22, 2011 - 7:31 pm

    I especially like the way JK Rowling used POV throughout her books. She used overheard conversation, reading and the clever pensieve whenever she wanted Harry to learn something without making it seem like an info dump. The big surprise came in Book 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when it opened from a different POV. Yet, even there, an omniscient POV, she used great skill, showing the action from different angles, and even dipping into a mind or two, without causing her readers to scratch their head in confusion. A master of the art. Or would that be mistress? Am I being sexist or feminist here? (And I’m not a professional so don’t beat on me if I’ve got it all wrong.)

  35. #44 by Christine Carmichael on August 22, 2011 - 7:35 pm

    Hi Kristen,

    I write in third person shifting. Which is, as you say, a playing field filled to the brim with landmines ready to blast the unwary into smithereens.

    For a new writer, I believe it pays not to change the POV more than once in a scene, or even in a chapter, until the writer learns the craft of smooth transitions of POV. A smooth transition alerts the reader, subliminally, that a POV change is coming. My POV changes still feel a bit ‘clunky’ to me at times and they are something I pay particular attention to during editing and revising.

    However, during intense emotional angst – arguments and love scenes spring to mind – I believe the odd extra change of POV can work well. But the reader must know at all times who is thinking and feeling the emotion, otherwise the reader is confused and needs to backtrack to work out who is saying and thinking what. Which, at bit like this comment, can be deeply confuddling and confusing to the reader.

    Off topic a little and please forgive me, but I’ve been following your advice on tweeting and blogging etc., and thanks to you I have dipped my big toe in the pond. Scary stuff, but I have you linked and everything, and I’m useless with technology so if I can do it, anyone can.

    Christine

  36. #45 by Annalise Green on August 22, 2011 - 7:39 pm

    Something else that’s interesting – different POVs are so intricate and pose such different challenges that writers often specialize in one or the other. In some critique groups, I’ve read people who wrote terrific 1st person but didn’t dare touch 3rd person. I’m a 3rd person gal, because whenever I try to write 1st person it just turns into a bunch of “I, I, I” and oversharing ahoy.

    I mention this not because I think people should be limited, but because it’s something to keep in mind when you start writing in a POV a little alien to you. You’re now on a NEW learning curve. As if writing wasn’t already hard enough!

  37. #46 by Barbara McDowell on August 22, 2011 - 3:01 pm

    *pulling up a chair for class*

    This is a great refresher Kristen! I prefer writing in first person or third person locked. I tend to get hop happy with omniscient. I think I find the other two to be more intimate as well for what I write.

  38. #47 by Roxanne Skelly on August 22, 2011 - 3:24 pm

    I sure didn’t ace my language arts classes. Unfortunately, I was a math and science nerd, and my english teachers tended to ignore me or worse, which had an impact on my confidence. Mumble-mumble years later, I’m finding that I do ok, as I’ve developed some skills along the way.
    I’m hoping the humility I picked up over those bumpy early years is opening me up learning and will continue to do so.

    Anyway, to the topic. I’m all about character development. I really want to get inside the heads of the characters in the stories I read. Head-hopping tends to get in the way, and often, third person seems to lead towards too many characters, and I honestly may get lost trying to track who everyone is.

    So, it’s all about first person for me. It’s what I like to read, and it’s what I write. Not a big deal, as the genre I write in tends to be first person. I prefer past tense as well, although recently, I’ve stumbled across a few great exceptions. I do tend to drop in two or three case failures per chapter, but I’m getting better at that. Fortunately, I now go back and check for that in my revisions.

  39. #48 by Catherine Johnson on August 22, 2011 - 3:31 pm

    Just when I thought I’d read the best post on p.o.v. I should have known :) I hope someone puts some MG examples in the comments. Ièm about to start a new story and on the fence as to p.o.v. I have to say it must be hard to know if you are writing third person or omniscient – yikes. Time to study that one instead of crossing fingers.

  40. #49 by JM Randolph on August 22, 2011 - 4:02 pm

    I’m happy to see some specific reasons for which POV to use. I always go with what “feels” right but it’s better if there is some concrete logic to back that up. 1st person is my favorite; I somehow feel out of my league a lot of times when I use 3rd. Recently on my WIP I found I was always beginning each scene in past tense and inadvertently switching over to present. So I chose present and am changing over. As far as resources regarding POV go, I get a lot from submitting my work to my writing group. We’re totally not afraid to call each other on inconsistencies and points of confusion.

  41. #50 by Antimony on August 22, 2011 - 4:10 pm

    This a great post – I’ve never been too clued up on POV! As it is, I’m using 3rd person POV in my current WIP – so thank you for the heads up!

    A x

  42. #51 by E. Elle on August 22, 2011 - 4:52 pm

    You really broke down POV in an easy-to-understand way. Thanks! I tend to employ third person shifting (now I know what it’s called!) I’ve never been a big fan of first person but I think it might be necessary for my WiP. I haven’t decided yet. When I read Harry Potter for the first time, I was amazed at how easily Rowling kept emotion real while only seeing through Harry’s perspective. (Exceptions to his perspective are, of course, when we are not in Harry-centric scenes, like the openings of Sorcerer’s Stone and Goblet of Fire.) I will try to keep all eyes open on my POV.

  43. #52 by shelleykoon on August 22, 2011 - 5:29 pm

    I always find it amazing that I can look at someone else’s work and point out all of their POV issues yet when it comes to my own – I make the same mistakes! POV is a fish to me, in that just when I think I have it figured it out and reeled in, it dives under a limb and I find myself struggling to get it under control again. I’m getting better and posts like this are so helpful – thank you Kristen!

  44. #53 by Renee Schuls-Jacobson on August 22, 2011 - 5:50 pm

    I’ve gone back and forth in my WIP between 1st person and 3rd. It was becoming too scary that people would think my story was real. I made it 3rd person to help fiction it up. Along with a lot of jazz hands and pixie dust.

    This was a great piece on POV. You may have just become a hand-out or a link to students in my Comp 101 class this semester.

    And, um…you are like so totally bookmarked. ;-)

  45. #54 by MaryAnnPedenCoviello (@MAPedenCoviello) on August 22, 2011 - 9:28 pm

    I write mostly in first person, with the occasional chapter (chapter, not paragraph) in third person, when events outside my narrator’s presence occur. I recently edited the opening of a book where the writer had not clue one about POV. I wish I’d had this post to show him. I muddled around with my own explanations.

    As always, you have smitten the nail firmly on the noggin.

  46. #55 by Tahlia Newland on August 22, 2011 - 10:15 pm

    Although it is certainly safer and easier to stick with one POV per scene, I notice that a lot of romance novels have POV changes from the heroine to the hero within scenes, and I’ve not found a problem with it if the change point is a natural place to change, they ‘pass the batton’ smoothly and have a line break as well.

  47. #56 by Dean K Miller on August 23, 2011 - 12:07 am

    ‘Tis a big challenge to keep one or two straight in attempting to write. This is the finest piece I’ve seen describing, exampling, and offering ideas on all available POV’s. Definitely a challenge for my with my first WIP as I am in the 3rd Person Shifting camp (I think! *laughs*). So far it seems to be staying clear and delineated between characters. I too, am logging this as a keeper for the ages!

  48. #57 by Donna Newton on August 23, 2011 - 1:24 am

    Hey, does Shawn know you used this picture of him on a night out? :)

    Love this post. You have drummed POV into me since I’ve know you, but I still love to read the bullet points to keep it fresh in my memory.

    It doesn’t happen much anymore, as my characters are greedy and never give the camera away, but in the old days my camera got around quite a bit! *cough cough*

    Great post, Kristen!

  49. #58 by EllieAnn on August 23, 2011 - 7:56 am

    Oh gosh, you’re so hilarious!! I love your posts. =)
    I sometimes find breaks in POV in traditionally published MS, I know Harry Potter has a few slips of POV. It’s so hard to catch every break-of course none should be so bad that you feel like you’re head hopping (that’s unforgivable even if you say 12 hail mary’s).
    That’s why it’s good to have an experienced editor look at a MS before you submit it.
    Thanks for the great article, it’s a good reminder!

  50. #59 by Kristie Kiessling (@Narratus) on August 23, 2011 - 9:45 am

    Kristen, this sort of post is what I call “awesome sauce”. What a fantastic article. Might be the first time I have agreed with everything you’ve said. It seems to me that the very essence of writing is point of view. As you mentioned, we readers want to be in the head of the main character, to feel what he feels and live his journey. Boy, it is the easiest thing to screw up, too.

    I will have you know two things about this post, by the way:

    1) I nearly burnt my house down while reading it (overheated my cast iron fry pan because the article was so engrossing. Turns out that wasn’t a bad thing. I was able to sear that first image out of my brain with the hot pan);

    2) You have to stop shouting the “S” word! My dog goes crazy – yes, even when I’m only reading it. ;D

  51. #60 by Don on August 24, 2011 - 10:35 am

    Whoa. You’ve given me much to ponder. Don’s probably written in multiple P.O.V.s over the years, and I need to write this down at the top of Don’s rule list.

    But seriously …great blog entry.

  52. #61 by nightsmusic on August 25, 2011 - 8:51 pm

    Thank you for the best explanation of POV I’ve read yet.

    I write 3rd person shifting because it’s the best fit for me. With the exception of two or three authors, I can’t read first person. Too few people do it well and I don’t get a feel for each character. I’m getting a one sided view of all of them and that’s not a satisfying read to me.

  53. #62 by Jami Gold on August 26, 2011 - 3:13 pm

    Great post! Every time I see unpublished authors try to instruct each other on how to do the baton-pass successfully, I just cringe. I’ve read multi-published, best-selling authors who do baton passes, and I *notice* it EVERY SINGLE TIME. I don’t care if they’re doing it “right” or not. If I’m noticing it, they’re taking me out of story. Period.

  54. #63 by JM Merchant on August 27, 2011 - 8:59 am

    Thanks for this Kristen. Looking back over my original outline for my novel, the POV was all over the place, then I started doing short stories which were all first person, but now I’m back to the novel I’m trying to lock down third person shifting to a small handful of characters. Sadly it means killing a few darlings and trying to figure out other ways to relay certain pieces of information.
    I think I’ll be referring back to this post a lot over the coming months!

  55. #64 by tamaramorning on August 27, 2011 - 7:31 pm

    Great post! As someone who’s thinking about self-publishing, this is definitely something I need to think about.

  56. #65 by Marilag Lubag on August 28, 2011 - 3:09 am

    POV… There’s also the second person but no one ever uses those. My favorite is the first person (though I’ve used third person, too) because it fits my voice well. Omniscient is where I get muddy.

  57. #66 by Kim Weiss on August 29, 2011 - 9:39 am

    I don’t like to read first person UNLESS the narrator is very sarcastic/humorous or has a unique way of thinking. Becky in the Shopaholic books would be unbearable if you didn’t see exactly how her mind worked and why she thought she needed whatever she was spending money on next. The Bridget Jones books would be boring if they were in 3rd person, and didn’t have her saying “Gaaah” and counting her cigarettes.

    When a narrator isn’t quirky and it’s written in 1st person it seems awkward, or even worse, like the narrator is bragging (“My husband and I live in the chicest street in Washington DC. We decided to send our children to the most exclusive private school. . .”) There’s one series of popular books that would be much better written in 3rd person, because the narrating character really has nothing to say. She just describes what is going on around her and she comes off as a sort of a priss. I won’t mention the name of this series, however, as I am afraid the narrator’s boyfriend/husband will chase me down and bite me, and I really was hoping to die in about 50 years, and not roam around as one of the undead. ;)

  58. #67 by Cheryl Sonnier (@CherylSonnier) on September 23, 2011 - 9:21 am

    That is possibly one of the best explanations of POV I’ve read yet. I’ll be bookmarking this page for linking to when I critique – as POV is probably the one thing I have to mention the most.

  59. #68 by jbbrooklin on August 24, 2012 - 3:34 am

    Great article! It’s the first really good explanation about the pros and cons of each POV that I have come across.

  60. #69 by jbbrooklin on August 24, 2012 - 3:35 am

    Reblogged this on J.B. Brooklin and commented:
    Check out this article about P.O.V. If you as a writer ever wondered about the pros and cons, the do’s and dont’s this is the right place to look.
    Also have a look at Kriten Lamb’s book We Are Not Alone.

  61. #70 by Elaine Chissick on July 14, 2013 - 1:51 pm

    this is going to sound really strange, but I am writing one book from two POV’s, the first one, the main character is written in first person present tense. The second POV (the second most important character), I can’t make up my mind if it’s third person locked past tense or Omni in past tense. Sounds terrible I know, but it actually works!

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